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Was Afghan Opposition Leader Victim of US Intelligence Failure?

The war against the Taleban suffered a setback when a major Afghan opposition figure, Abdul Haq, was captured and executed after entering Afghanistan. The incident has raised questions about the quality of U.S. intelligence in Afghanistan.

Exiled Afghan opposition leader Abdul Haq was always asking the United States for help. He did not get it, and stung by personal attacks on him, ventured into Afghanistan to try to recruit defectors from the Taleban.

Instead, the Taleban trapped him in a canyon. A companion tried to call for U.S. helicopters, but none arrived. Later, U.S. jets bombed a convoy several miles away. Mr. Haq was captured and hanged.

"The United States hung him out to dry," says James Ritchie, an American businessman who was supporting Mr. Haq.

Pakistani intelligence officials say Mr. Haq was on a botched CIA mission. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld denied this on ABC Television's "This Week" program Sunday, but he confirmed that U.S. aircraft tried to come to the Afghan's rescue. "My understanding is that he had decided to come back in the country in a form and manner of his own choosing, and that he did request assistance and that he received some assistance. The assistance unfortunately, was from the air, and he was on the ground. And regrettably, he was killed," Mr. Rumsfeld said.

Robert McFarlane, a former top foreign policy adviser to President Ronald Reagan, was close to Mr. Haq. Speaking on CBS television's "Face the Nation" program Sunday, he said the Afghan opposition leader was never able to get cooperation from Washington. "Right now we have a critical void of intelligence on the ground in Afghanistan," said Mr. McFarlane. "We have a superb military capability, but it has no eyes and ears on the ground. The CIA has failed catastrophically to engage with people who are quite willing to help, who are angry at the Taleban, and today could still be recruited and tell us where the military ought to shoot."

Mr. McFarlane says the death of Mr. Haq was due to incompetence. A ground war can be won only with good intelligence. "Get over there. Get a bag of money and make it clear that whoever turns over a Taleban figure to us is going to be a wealthy person. There are patriots there, and there are people who are willing to be recruited. We are not doing it," Mr. McFarlane said.

An unconventional war requires unconventional tactics, like those of Mr. Haq, said New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman. "This is not like the Gulf War. This is not like Kosovo, and unless you adopt the methods of the people you are up against - the unconventional methods - we are going to find ourselves at a real loss," said Mr. Friedman, a veteran Middle East reporter. "Events like what happened to Abdul Haq are devastating to us because the message is: anyone who even thinks about cooperating with the Americans gets killed."

Mr. Friedman said the United States must show it is serious about winning the war if it expects to continue to get help from allies like Mr. Haq.